Like most writers, I crave quiet time to get lost in my latest project and just let the words flow. Yet it’s my time in the world, especially my teaching time, that feeds my spirit and sense of connection. I teach creative writing in the women’s unit at the Barnstable County Correctional Facility on Cape Cod. It’s a powerful experience each week to enter through the gates of the prison, bringing my notebook and writing prompts with me. One of last week’s prompts was this: “You are ten years of age. It is December. What are you thinking about?” One of the women wrote in vivid detail about the joy of “Christmas tip time,” when her parents would rip open tip envelopes and count the money received. As she read her words aloud, we all leaned forward, listening to the details of her father tallying the total each December, comparing the figure to Decembers past, as the children helped to count. She read to us that it was a time when her parents, who delivered newspapers on Cape Cod, were most happy. They would use the money to buy a new (to them) car for about $500, which would enable them to replace their current clunker and deliver papers for yet another year. She read with pleasure; it was the memory of a happy time. Her account jarred me, making visible all of the invisible people who make our world function with their labor. She gave us all a gift that day with her writing: the gift of seeing and appreciating the not-so-glamorous work that people do, service that is often low-paying and unappreciated. I’m approaching the holiday season with a new awareness and appreciation, and I have the prison writing class to thank for that.
I was recently featured on a local cable arts program on Cape Cod. I got to chat for 15 minutes about teaching at the prison, children’s books, and my own writing.